How a gift from a stranger helped kickstart my mental health recovery

I was in the thick of writing my dissertation in disability studies for an Educational Leadership degree at Duquesne University, and I felt like a failure. Draft after draft, a serious case of writer’s block, computer tantrums, human meltdowns, I was doubting everything about my identity as an academic and an educator. Let’s be honest, I was doubting everything about myself.

Todd and Kelsey Johnson, along with their 22-month-old daughter, visit with Christine Roman-Lantzy in Friendship Park in July

A Pittsburgh-based expert in helping children with neurological blindness seeks new home for progressive practice

Christine Roman-Lantzy welcomed the Johnson family into her office at West Penn Hospital. Kelsey, Todd and their 22-month-old daughter Seda had traveled five hours from Virginia to have Seda assessed for cortical visual impairment [CVI].  

At four and a half months, an ophthalmologist said Seda couldn’t see much more than shadows and lights, implying there was nothing to be done. “That was really hard,” Kelsey said at their July appointment in Pittsburgh, “and we didn’t really agree.”

By chance, Kelsey learned of CVI, a neurological condition where the eyes and optic nerves are structurally intact, but the brain has trouble processing visual input. It accounts for about 30-40% of children with visual impairments, more than any other cause, and can be the result of premature birth, epilepsy or traumatic brain injury, among other reasons. 

She joined a 9,000-member CVI Facebook group where Roman-Lantzy’s name came up for her internationally renowned assessment, the CVI Range, that she offered through her Pediatric VIEW program at West Penn Hospital. Kelsey and Todd were surprised to get an appointment in what they would later learn would be Roman-Lantzy’s final months at the hospital.

An illustration of a woman doing eye therapy on another woman and a thought bubble appearing behind the person getting the therapy showing traumatic thoughts.

Trauma has a new, unlikely opponent: How your eyes can help you emotionally heal

Editor's note: This story contains references to trauma and sexual violence.  

Madalyn Guthrie credits much of her recovery from a 2019 rape to — if you boil it down — quickly moving her eyes. A therapist treated Guthrie for PTSD with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, referred to as EMDR.

“It really is life changing,” Guthrie said. She’s now 20, works as a waitress, assists people with disabilities and studies childhood education. 

EMDR is emerging as a feasible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, which an estimated one in 11 people in the United States face. Sexual assault, as Guthrie experienced, is one of the leading contributors to PTSD. 

EMDR was trending recently when Prince Harry told Oprah that it helped him with PTSD. 

“It cleans my hard drive,” he said on a new Apple TV+ series “The Me You Can’t See.” 

His disclosure was timely. 

The pandemic “has triggered significant emotional, physical, and economic problems around the world,” University of Oklahoma doctors wrote in the Psychiatric Times.

Metalico, a metal recycling facility on Neville Island. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

A thousand little cuts: Locals say a fire on Neville Island shows the pollution didn’t stop after Shenango Coke Works closed

This story was produced in partnership with Gazette 2.0, a hyperlocal startup delivering impactful news to the western suburbs of Pittsburgh in print and online at gazette20.com. Kristine Pace was packing a bag to care for her injured father on April 14 when she smelled burning plastic and began frantically searching her Emsworth home to see what had caught fire. 

Melanie Holcomb was walking her dogs nearby when she noticed a stench so intense that she saw a driver pull over to see if the engine had caught fire. Neighbors wandered onto their porches. When a cloud of black smoke drifted across the Ohio River and into view, Holcomb said, she hurried home. A large industrial fire had erupted at Metalico, a metal recycling facility on Neville Island.

Jessica Salfia standing in her empty classroom

In the union strongholds of Southwest PA and WV, labor struggles for health benefits echo in teacher union vaccination efforts

Unions for workers in the steel and coal industries fought for healthcare benefits and better job conditions for those workers.
Those struggles have informed the tactics of teachers unions to this day — particularly notable during the COVID-19 pandemic amid a vaccine rollout and clamoring for a return to in-person teaching. I

Three community leaders who led COVID vaccine events in Pittsburgh offer ‘one step in the solution to a wholly inequitable process’

Navigating the COVID-19 vaccination scheduling site in Allegheny County is like taking an online final exam when none of the multiple-choice options is the right answer; a privileged few are wrecking the grading curve; and the entrance to the exam site is obscured for the poor, homeless, Black and Brown. Pennsylvania has received more than 2.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines but has only delivered roughly 2 million — or 73.3%. This rate is 5.5% lower than the national average. Five percent may not sound like a lot. But in this case, it is more than just the difference between Pass and Fail. 

An increase to the national average (78.8%) would mean that 146,000 more Pennsylvania residents would already have received their first dose.

Commentary: Pittsburgh is America’s apartheid city

Like the children in Alex, Black children in my hometown were growing up in one of the nation’s least livable and unequal cities for Black Americans, according to the landmark race and gender equity study published in 2019. At that moment, I had arrived at an uncomfortable truth. Pittsburgh was America's apartheid city, not the nation's most livable city.

As a community health nurse, I know a barrier to health care when I see it. The COVID vaccine signup process is one that can cost lives.

Health systems that prioritize people who are able to go online for hours, hunting for scarce vaccine appointments, are creating barriers for vulnerable people who often have spent most of their lives pressing their noses against the window of a healthcare system that doesn’t seem to care about them.